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UK Government Locks in Ambitious Zero-Emission Auto Mandates Amid Controversy

Even with the unexpected move of extending the timeline to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles from 2030 to 2035, the government's ZEV mandate holds firm. By 2030, 80% of new cars sold by automakers in the UK must be zero-emission, rising to 100% by 2035.

Interestingly, these objectives echo an earlier consultation document released in March. The government's sudden shift in stance to extend the internal combustion engine phase-out period surprised many. Yet, the overall ZEV framework remains primarily unscathed.

For 2023, automakers should aim for 22% of their UK car sales to be ZEVs, incrementally increasing to 33% by 2026 and 52% by 2028. The automotive sector openly expressed concerns over the ambitious benchmarks, urging additional governmental policies to reach these targets. However, pro-EV circles point out that ZEVs currently make up about 18% of total car sales; hence, achieving a 22% sales goal next year should not be a far-fetched reality.

"Our mandate provides certainty for manufacturers, benefits drivers by providing more options and helps grow the economy by creating skilled jobs," said Transport Secretary Mark Harper. "We are also making it easier than ever to own an electric vehicle, from reaching record levels of charge points to providing tax relief for EV owners."

Miss the mark and be prepared to shell out a staggering £15,000 fine per car and £18,000 per van. However, the government throws manufacturers a lifeline in the form of "over-performance credits." Through this system, firms can essentially 'borrow' a set amount of future ZEV production credits, offsetting shortfalls. In 2023, up to 75% of the annual target can be borrowed, which drops to 25% by 2026.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said the automotive industry invested billions in decarbonisation and recognised the ZEV Mandate as the "single most important measure to deliver net zero".

"We welcome the clarity the mandate's publication provides for the next six years and the flexibilities it contains to support pragmatic, equitable delivery across this diverse sector," he said. "Manufacturers offer a vast range of zero-emission vehicles, but demand must also match supply - that means making ZEVs affordable by incentivising drivers to make the switch now and delivering the infrastructure to meet consumer expectations.

Not everyone is popping champagne, though. Environmental advocates argue that pushing the phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035 will add an estimated 980,000 extra internal combustion engine vehicles on the roads, resulting in around 10 million tonnes of additional carbon emissions over their lifetimes.

Moreover, though the mandate presents stricter controls on emissions for the period leading up to 2035, these are yet to be legislated. This lack of finality coincides with a wave of criticism against the UK government's backpedalling on key climate commitments, especially following the recent approval of the Rosebank oil and gas field.

MPs on the Energy Security and Net Zero community have today joined the chorus of criticism, with the chair of the committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil, writing to Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho to warn that the government was undermining the UK's climate leadership and tuning climate issues into "party political football".

"Mrs Thatcher's government began our dedication to the UK being a shining example of good practice and driving global action through the UN to mitigate the consequences of human-driven climate change," the letter notes. "This has survived several changes of government, and even Brexit and Covid did not diminish the cross-party consensus on driving action to tread ever more lightly on the planet.

"We would like to understand how the timing of this statement, just prior to political party conferences, and the lack of engagement with other party political leaders or elected representatives of the devolved assemblies, drives a consensus rather than potentially allowing climate to become a party political football with all of the detriment that this might entail."

MacNeil blasted the PM's decision to announce significant changes to the UK's net zero agenda during a Parliamentary recess, all while claiming in his address that Carbon Budgets in the UK needed to be scrutinised more carefully.

"The Prime Minister seemed to undermine the actual gains that have been made under previous governments, suggesting that they have sought to reach net zero simply by wishing it," he wrote. "He suggested that a Westminster consensus was a bad thing, that there was only 17 minutes of debate on the carbon budget. The Prime Minister will be aware that when the House is in consensus, there is rarely a need to use the house floor to debate that issue beyond the formalities of fulfilling the procedural necessities."


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